Natalie O Design Provides Creative Insight Through Collaboration
Story by Nancy Miller | Photos by Luke Metzinger
Natalie Officer is a storyteller. Her stories are at once vivid and subtle, dramatic and soothing. But, the stories are not her own; they are those of her clients. She is the narrator, the interpreter and the voice that allows the stories to be expressed with clarity and beauty.
“I never felt I was going to do full scale interior design, but people kept asking me to do it,” she says about the career that was launched by staging homes to be sold. “My business was born out of relationship building. It became a second verse of an existing song.”
Hers is an example of one’s life going in an unexpected direction. When Officer and her husband, Reise, moved to Louisville from Chicago and London, she had her eyes set on the fashion industry, the field for which she was educated and which held her interest. Quickly, she found Louisville to be “The Sahara” of fashion, necessitating her to undergo a metamorphosis.
Now as the creative force behind her company, Natalie O Design, she takes a refreshingly candid look at its evolution from a one-person show. She admits she had a lack of desire to take on the role of boss, much preferring to be CEO and creative director. “But, you can’t scale a business when you do it all yourself,” she says. “I believe in a team environment, and I think that collaboration is the jet fuel to creativity.”
A year ago, Officer invited Chelsey Cox to join her. Cox has a master’s degree in art business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art and came on as brand manager, working with Officer to reposition the company. A few months later, Taylor Cremo joined the duo to handle social media and vendor relations. The current team also includes two interns from UofL, a part-time accountant and Julie Metzinger. Officer jokes that they all work for Metzinger, who somehow manages to keep the crew organized.
Natalie O Design is focused primarily on residential design but has recently begun designing commercial spaces such as Please & Thank You, the popular bakery and coffee house. That project illuminates the company’s approach to detail. “Our mission has always been to help people’s spaces reflect the best version of themselves, but commercial spaces are, by nature, more sterile,” says Officer. “We’re sometimes called on to make those spaces more relatable. There’s a comfort level in a more intimate setting.”
“We love clients who are a little left of center, going against the grain,” adds Cox.
The entire process of design is an intimate one between designer and client. She finds it difficult, if not impossible, to create and execute design if the client is unwilling “to share who they are.” Perhaps that desire to delve into a client’s personality comes naturally to her, as her father is a therapist.
Uncovering, understanding and weaving the elements of clients’ lives – where they have traveled, if they have treasured pieces of furniture or accessories from a loved one or what type of music they enjoy – help her tell the stories of individual lives and of the houses that become homes.
She’s brutally honest about her early days in business, those times she couldn’t afford to be choosy about with whom she worked. Although those days have passed, she recalls the initial meeting with one prospective, difficult client. She succinctly describes her reaction as being one between hives and goosebumps. The first meeting was the last.
Relationships among the women in Natalie O Design are as important as those between the designer and client. According to Metzinger, “We all work so well together because we love each other. I get verklempt just trying to put it into words.”
Cox views the collaboration as being instrumental in making each member of the staff less self-conscious. “Natalie allows everyone to grow, which is rare in a work environment,” Cox says. “The baseline of respect makes us better as a team”
In a typical exchange, Officer jumps in with her own thought: “We are as loyal to the process as we are to each other. That’s a strong bond.” Metzinger responds, “There isn’t an air of arrogance among us,” to which Officer agrees that there’s no time for egos in their studio, which is located at Hope Mills in Germantown.
Officer can’t imagine people with whom she would rather be on a sinking boat. She even ascribes imaginary tasks to each. She and Metzinger would be in charge of buckets to be used to bail the water. Cox would be responsible for the compass. Cremo would serve as comedic relief. Their photographer, Luke Metzinger, would be available to chronicle the drama.
As different as their personalities are, the women share a vision for the company and the talent they provide their clients. About new media and its impact on interior design, Officer expresses the sentiments they have in common. “Within our studio we often shy away from Pinterest,” she says. “We gain inspiration from travel, experience, food and, most importantly, the personal aesthetic and experience of our clients. We comb trade and non-trade publications and utilize our decades-old collections of magazines and design books. The entire studio dances with the sound of our bouncing ideas from one another. Then, like the most perfectly curated handful of sea shore finds, we bring those pieces together for approval and implementation, bending the ways that we have been inspired into something new and interesting.”
She continues, “I think it’s great that everything is readily available. And people putting things together that make them feel good is always positive. But, if you want something other than the outfit on the mannequin in the window, you have to dig further.”
Most prospective clients who call her are in some type of life transition. They may have moved, married, experienced a birth or death, divorced or become an empty nester. Such transitions may provoke action in the form of the redesign of their home, which she says can soften the blow and provide comfort.
She isn’t a designer who plays by hard and fast rules, but there are a few tenets of her style, one being the use (or non-use) of the color red. She never uses it as part of an ongoing palette because she sees it as alarming to the visual sense. However, she is amenable to using red for something that is temporary or could be moved.
Unlike many designers who “go to market” to catch new trends or to shop for products, Officer does not, explaining, “I like the benefits of the extra work it takes us to find the right things. At market, having the same options available to me that are available to every other designer in town seems like a paint-by-numbers. Clients don’t want to see themselves coming and going.” VT
Natalie O Design
1000 Swan St., Suite 4